PAX Unplugged – Mythic Mischief and Klask

Mythic Mischief and Klask don’t really have anything in common with each other. It’s not even like they had booths next to each other or something. Mythic Mischief is an action economy and movement-based game with victory points that almost reminds me of Chess. Klask is a skill-based dexterity game that feels like miniature air hockey.

So why am I covering them together? Because I don’t have enough to say about them separately to fill writeup! Anyway, let’s get to it.

Mythic Mischief

Mythic Mischief is an asymmetric grid-based movement game, designed by Max Anderson, Zac Dixon, Austin Harrison, and published by IV Games.

The best summary I can offer is that you and your opponents both control 3 miniatures on a 5v5 grid. Alternating turns, you attempt to spend your actions and use your abilities to place your opponent’s units in the path or directly on an NPC unit called the Tome Keeper.

Editor’s Note: Tome Keeper not to be confused with Dome Keeper

At the end of a player’s turn, the Tome Keeper moves towards specific locations. If there are units in its way, the Tome Keeper knocks them out, and the player who didn’t control those units scores points. Units that get knocked out can be replaced at the start of the next player’s turn.

There’s a fair amount to the movement and action system, and how it plays with the game’s upgrade choices that I don’t think I can summarize effectively, so I won’t try. It’s a perfectly fine system, but I would not describe it as “Sparking Joy,” at least for me.

It is worth noting that each player will be playing a different faction, with unique abilities and so keeping track of what your opponent can do is necessary to succeed.

I only played one game of Mythic Mischief, and it was a combination of a demo and an ass beating. I wouldn’t say that I hugely enjoyed it. That might have been because I lost, and because I get salty easily. But I also struggled with two other factors.

First up, just because of how the game works with scoring, it felt very difficult to make any sort of comeback once I fell behind. Secondly, the game reminded me of Chess in that it felt like a game of trying to find the “Correct” moves, and like a puzzle of chaining things together. That’s just not something I find very fun.

So yeah, if you do like deterministic movement games, or things like Chess, maybe you’ll get more out of Mythic Mischief than I did.

Klask

Klask is a manual dexterity game by Mikkel Bertelsen.

Honestly, it feels weird to be reviewing Klask here. It’s as if for some reason I felt compelled to write a review of Skeeball, or Soccer. The closest games I can think of as a comparison to Klask would be Air Hockey or maybe Foosball.

Those chips look really good.

All of this to say that the “Manual Dexterity” part of the game is absolutely not optional. Klask is played in an elevated square wooden box with sides. Each player has a magnet with a stick in the end that they hold under the box, and a pawn they place on top. The top pawn is moved by dragging it with the magnet from under the box.

The pawn and stick aren’t the only magnetic pieces, though. Klask also has 3 small plastic beads with magnets in the center that are placed equidistant in the middle of the playfield at the start of a point. These beads will jump and stick to your pawn if you get too close, and if 2 of the 3 stick to a player’s pawn, their opponent gets a point.

Points can also be scored by a player hitting the ball into the goal indent on the board, or if a player messes up and gets their pawn stuck in the indent.

The interesting part of Klask for me is how the tiny white beads open up strategy. Without them, the game is pretty much just air hockey with a marble. But with the beads, you can do interesting stuff like hitting them towards your opponent in order to close off parts of the board.

Overall, I like Klask. I just don’t like it enough to really want to buy it. That said, if someone asked me if I’d play, my response would be a semi-enthusiastic “Sure!”

Conclusion

I don’t think there’s any meaningful conclusion you can take out of things like both Klask and Mythic Mischief being present at PAX Unplugged. Maybe there’s some sort of testament to the diversity of mechanics and games present. Maybe there’s something to be said for the sorts of games you’d play if someone else is footing the bill.

And maybe there’s nothing. Maybe there is no purpose. Maybe the real journey was the friends we made along the way.

If you want more nonsense and to be notified whenever I write new stuff, maybe consider following me on Twitter? The site still seems to be up and functioning, at least for now.

Marvel Snap and the Inherent Unfairness of Card Games

Marvel Snap can be random and unfair. Personally, I think that’s a good thing. Here’s why.

I started this as Marvel Snap Week, but now it’s Marvel Snap Weeks, because I didn’t get these posts finished in time. You can read part 1 and part 2 here.

Let’s talk about something that everyone knows, but nobody really says out loud. Okay, nobody except game designers. They say it, but no one else does. Game designers and… Maxamillion Pegasus from Yu-Gi-Oh. Who, in-universe is a game designer, so I guess it’s still all game designers. Anyway.

This is the ideal game designer. You may not like it, but this is what peak performance looks like.

Card games are not balanced. They are not inherently fair. In a game between two players, the strongest player won’t always win. The strongest deck won’t always win.

This isn’t a design flaw. Allowing weaker or unskilled players to beat stronger or higher skilled players is intentional.

Marvel Snap’s mechanics lean into this in several ways, both with card effects and core gameplay. But they also offer an out, allowing players on the receiving end of the RNG stick a way to minimize losses.

So let’s talk about Marvel Snap’s gameplay for the first time in this short series, and how it handles both having a wide variety of RNG, and controlling RNG’s effects.

Marvel Snap is played with a deck of 12 cards over 6 turns. Each card starting in a deck must be unique. Players draw 4 cards to start, and an additional card each turn. Cards have a cost and power. The cost is energy, and has to be paid to play the card. You start at one energy, and get an additional energy each turn. Leftover energy doesn’t carry over.

The game itself is played across 3 locations. To win, you just have to have the most power at two of the three locations when the game ends. Each player can only play 4 cards at any location. In case of ties, whoever has the most total power wins.

Locations are where the RNG first comes into play. There’s a fairly wide pool of locations, and when a game starts, three are randomly selected and placed face down. A single location is flipped face up when the game starts, and additional locations are flipped on turn 2 and turn 3. Locations can have a wide range of effects. Some buff or debuff units played on them, while others might give additional energy, or create copies of cards at random locations. One location will even play your cards for you. (And he’ll do it very badly, screw you Ego The Living Planet.)

Locations provide a huge amount of variance. Playing to an unrevealed location can be a big gamble. Sure, it might be the location that gives a free 6 drop if you fill it first, but it might be the location swaps the units located there to the opposing player after turn 3.

And this just the start of things that can randomly go wrong. There are plenty of cards with semi-random effects, or that can pull random cards into your hand or from your deck. In short, there’s a lot of space to “lose to” RNG.

The thing about Marvel Snap, though, is that losses and wins are not created equal. Let’s talk about the “Snap” system.

There is no unranked mode in Marvel Snap. Every mode is ranked, and in every game, you’re competing for cosmic cubes. The wager starts at one cosmic cube, and if the game reaches the last turn, the wager is doubled to 2 cubes. That’s if the game reaches the last turn, though, because both players can retreat at anytime. Retreating counts as a loss, but in exchange, you only lose cubes you’d already wagered.

But while you can retreat, you can also choose to snap. Snapping doubles the number of cubes staked, and you can only do it once per match. Your opponent can also choose to snap.

In a normal game, you’ll generally lose win or lose 1-2 cubes. But if both you and your opponent end the game confident you can crush the other player, the amount can go up to 4-8 cubes. And I think this mechanic, where players can state their confidence (and bluff) about whether they’re going to win is part of what balances out RNG. You’re likely to get lucky and unlucky in generally even amounts in the long run. But if you push when you’re winning, and retreat when you think you’re going to lose, you’ll come out ahead.

Players can always retreat, and simply take a one-cube loss. Choosing to push into poor situations with higher losses is an active decision you choose to make. There’s no “I have to play it out” mentality where every game is equal. If you’re doing badly, you can surrender and minimize the pain of RNG.

As a brief side note, I think it’s also interesting that retreating is displayed with the message “You Retreated” and a friendly color scheme, while losses use a harsh aggressive red. There’s a definite goal of making retreating feel like a smart choice and a good option.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about Marvel Snap and RNG for the moment. Come back later this week, for part 4 of Marvel Snap Week(s), where we’ll talk about convergent game design, and wrap this series up. Or follow me on Twitter to see when that post goes up.

Marvel Snap and Dark Patterns

Marvel Snap has its fair share of dark patterns and skeezy progression design. Let’s talk about them for a bit.

Welcome back! It’s time for part two of Marvel Snap Week! Did anyone who worked on the game see part 1 and think “Wow, that review is positive,” or “He’s an illiterate hack, but at least he appreciates the game?” Well now it’s time to get rid of those nice feelings.

Mobile games are unique in that they’re the only platform where the games are usually “Free,” but have the potential to end up costing you more than a full ticket to Disney Land. As a result, the only sane approach is to enter with caution. They’re the only games I engage with while actively looking for a reason to NOT play them.

When a game is “Free,” you should always keep in mind panel 2 of XKCD #870.

Just replace “typeset” with “Spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and put on the app store.”

To be honest, Marvel Snap isn’t that bad. It wouldn’t rank anywhere in my list of worst video game business models. But not being at the bottom of the barrel shouldn’t be the standard for this stuff. So let’s talk about Marvel Snap’s prices, the concept of dark patterns of design, and how the bar for mobile games is so unbelievably low that something like Marvel Snap seems “Fine.”

Let’s start with pricing. Marvel Snap currently sells two objects. Battlepasses, and Gold. Battlepasses work like most battlepasses in games do, but they can only be bought with real money for about $8. Complete quests that unlock over time to earn battlepass experience points. Level up the battlepass to get additional resources. It’s a fairly standard design, even if it does reinforce a lot of the dark patterns we’ll be talking about later. If you pay the $8 you get some gold, extra resources, and special card styles and avatars.

Now let’s talk about gold, and how Marvel Snap’s progression and collection works, because it’s a bit more insidious.

Marvel Snap has a very unique design for its progression system, one that I’ve actually never seen used before. Instead of opening booster packs to get cards, or pulling from boxes, or having a wildcard system, Marvel Snap has a single value for your collection level.

Your collection level increases as you acquire new cards, and level up your cards. As you travel along the collection level track, there’s a variety of rewards, and some of those rewards are mystery cards. What the game doesn’t really ever tell you, though, is that those mystery cards aren’t random. Instead, they’re random from a pool, and removed once you get them. So as your collection level goes from 1-216, you’ll unlock cards from pool 1. And once you reach 216, you’ll have unlocked them all, and you’ll move onto pool 2. This part is reasonable.

What’s not is how the tracker changes.

As you travel down the collection level, the amount of levels you need to unlock a new card starts to shift. First it’s every 4 levels. Then every 8 levels. I’m currently collection level 358 and I unlock a new card every 12 levels.

This means that even if you play the game the same amount every day, you’re going to start making progress far, far slower. This is because gaining card level comes from upgrading cards, which requires two resources: boosters and credits. And while technically boosters are a limiting reagent, you can get them fairly easily by playing games. Credits are limited by daily quests.

Guess what they sell in the cash shop for gold?

So if two players play, and one spends money, and the other doesn’t, the one spending money will progress their collection faster. This, combined with the fact that your progression is designed to get slower over time, feels scummy. They claim, “You can’t pay to win.” And technically, that’s true. But you absolutely can pay to speed up your collection progress.

Oh, also. The game sells alt-art styles for cards at between $10-$20 in fake in game money. Yes, the expensive art alt styles are 1200 gold. And yes, the closest purchase in gold to buy those styles is $20. So it counts as $20. Skim is a real trick.

Man, I’ve written like a page, and I haven’t even gotten to the game’s dark patterns. There’s nothing super egregious here, but they use a lot of the standard stuff. Daily quests force you to play daily. Limited-time battlepasses make you grind. The aforementioned bullshit where the in-game currency that you purchase is always just a bit more than the expensive item’s cost, so that there’s always some leftovers.

All of this sucks, because Marvel Snap is actually quite fun to play. And that’s what we’ll be talking about tomorrow.

Marvel Snap Week or The Joy of Digital Card Games on Release

Welcome to Marvel Snap Week.

You may be wondering if this is sponsored content. Or maybe if (like the last time I devoted a week to simping for a single brand) this is an elaborate attempt to get free shit.

Sadly, no and no. Marvel Snap Week is just the result of Marvel Snap being interesting. I don’t think Marvel Snap or Ben Brode is going to give me a hug for writing any of this. For starters, in the scale of influencers, “I’m just a little guy.” Secondly, one of these writeups is going to say some rude things about their progression model.

I’ve instituted Marvel Snap Week mostly because the game made me want to write about a bunch of things, and so now I am going to do that. Starting with…

The Joy of Digital Card Games on Release

In many ways, I think digital card games are best when they first release. I’m talking about games like Hearthstone and Runeterra, but non-digital native games like Magic: The Gathering Arena can also fit this pattern.

There’s a bunch of reasons that digital card games are best at the start. The company running the game hasn’t peeled back its upper lip to reveal a set of fangs uniquely designed to latch onto your wallet. Instead, just like Dracula, they’re graciously inviting you into their home, and right now they want you to feel welcome. The knobs for the value extraction machine are, for the moment, in the hands of the actual design team and not the C-suite.

The other reason digital card games are best at the start is that this first set is the longest the design team will likely ever have to make a set. Someone once said of music that you have 12 years to make your first album, and 12 months to make your second, and I think that’s true here. No other set is going to have that luxury.

In addition, though, first sets tend to have the most clang. If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s an industry term used to refer to the equivalent of “tasty mouthfeel” but for games. Clang is the dropshadow on every card in MTG. It’s the little cloud of dust and thunk when you pull a card from your hand to smack down in Hearthstone. It’s the special animations and voice lines for the rarer cards, and the carefully made background boards.

That’s clang, and it’s on full display currently in Marvel Snap. Virtually every card has some sort of custom animation thing going on. Ant Man is real tiny when you first play him. It’s the slashing and chomping of Carnage as he eats your other cards, and the missiles launched by Deathlok. It’s the jets firing out of a Sentinel, and Captain America’s shield bouncing from edge to edge of your phone.

And if it wasn’t clear from the last paragraph, Marvel Snap is currently brimming with it. As live service games go on, though, they slowly walk the path to becoming dead non-service games. Clang tends to vanish. Why bother creating voice lines and animations for a card that won’t be played? Why bother making a million clever details that might not be noticed, or if they are, are complained about for “Slowing down gameplay?”

Maybe it’s just so the graphic designers have something to do on Fridays. Maybe it’s so people who review games can write about it.

Maybe it’s because the people who make games like this have a deep and abiding love of these properties and stories. And more than embodying them in mechanics, they want to show them in every little detail. They want to personify not only the characters that get feature length movies, but also the little weird ones that hide in the edges.

Maybe there’s something to be said for what you can do with a modern mythos of characters, built over the last 90 years by hundreds of individuals, each adding their own takes to an incredibly creative tapestry. A tapestry that exists despite the constraints of things like the comics code authority, and its current ownership by Disney.

But it’s probably the graphic designers on Friday one.

Rubber Bandits

Rubber Bandits’ one good game mode, Heist, can’t carry the weight of the other seven.

I don’t like Rubber Bandits very much. I don’t recommend it. Before I get into reviewing Rubber Bandits, though, I want to talk about party games in general a bit. I’ve written about this here, but I’ll go into some more detail on why I do not trust the party game genre.

Doing virtually anything with friends can be a good time, or at least a good memory, assuming everyone makes it out unharmed. I spent a lot of time in college playing Magic, and I remember it somewhat fondly. I also remember the time I convinced folks to follow my example and run a lap outside around an area near our dorm with almost no clothes on and no shoes after a winter storm.

While freezing my feet off wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had, it was definitely memorable. Playing around and doing ridiculous things is just like that. The value isn’t from doing dumb shit, it’s from doing dumb shit with friends. Something can be dumb, questionably made, and only mildly amusing and still be a good time.

Which brings me to Rubber Bandits.

Rubber Bandits is an up-to-4 player party game, with 8 competitive game modes, and 1 cooperative arcade mode. The game modes all share the same controls. You can jump, you can move with WASD or the controller, you can pick items up, throw them, and “use” them. The use function varies from item to item. Using a grenade pulls the pin, using a pistol shoots the gun, and using a chair beats someone over the head with it (just like in real life).

I have two important notes about these controls. First, characters control in a sort of wibbly wobbly way. I’ve had weapons I’ve picked up seemingly clip behind my character making them impossible to swing. There’s a jello-like feel to movement. Second, the game has a VERY heavy auto-aim system for projectile weapons. If you roughly point at another player and try to shoot them, you will likely hit. Not because you lined it up well, but because the auto-aim just works like that.

The result is a “combat system” that is fairly unsatisfying to actually fight with. Long range attacks are almost automatic hits, and short range attacks are a wobbly unfortunate melee. I’m not saying that a system of weird and wonky controls can’t be fun, but it doesn’t work here because the combat is so unwieldy. Now that we’ve covered controls, let’s talk about game modes.

First, you have the “Just Beat People Up” ones. These are Brawl, Team Brawl, Dodge Bomb and Snack Panic, and Carnage. Then you have Pork Pursuit (Hold the object) and Bomb Panic (Don’t be left holding the object). Finally, you have Heist and the co-operative game mode. The co-operative game mode isn’t very fun or interesting. It’s effectively just a reskinned version of the Heist game mode with extra NPC’s. Points are awarded after each round, and the first player to 21 points is the winner. Scoring is a bit weird, but I believe it’s 5 for a win, 3 for second place, 1 for third, and none for fourth.

Of these game modes, Heist is the only one that does something I haven’t seen before. If you’ve played Mario Party, Pummel Party, or honestly any mini-game based party game, you’ve already played something similar.

Heist is the only game mode with any sort of interesting tension. All players are dropped into the map. The map has a set of valuables to steal, and an exit. The exit only opens once all valuables are picked up. The goal is to get as much loot as you can, and then escape.

It’s a fun idea. Heist is the best Rubber Bandits gets. Most of the maps have some sort of switch or activatable object that changes up the play area. Grabbing all the money and running usually doesn’t work, because another player will just drop the floor out from under you. So even once you get the cash, you need to incapacitate your fellow players long enough to make your escape.

Even at its, best, though, it doesn’t always work. Some maps only have a single gem instead of multiple pieces of loot, so only one player gets any points. Some maps are just kind of janky and unfun to play, like the map where almost everything is dark. Other maps have the start of a good idea (the map where you need to mine down with pickaxes) but don’t really execute on it.

I’ve already made it clear I don’t recommend this game. Now I want to quickly run across the border from the land of opinion into the unoccupied territory of speculation. So if you want, you can stop reading this article here. Rubber Bandits is $5 for a copy, and it’s available on PC and Console.

The Land of Blatant Speculation

Anyway, now that we’re safely located in speculation, I want to share a theory I have about Rubber Bandits and how it ended up this way. There are a lot of little things that to me suggest Rubber Bandits was developed as a different experience, and that the 7 game modes that suck were sort of tacked on after the fact to fill space.

The first one is the camera. Rubber Bandits uses a locked camera that keeps all players in frame, instead of just focusing on your character. This would be fine for couch co-op or versus, but in internet multiplayer it’s pretty awful. In addition, because the camera has to always keep everyone in frame, it cuts down on a lot of the design space available for creating maps. Everything always has to face the player, there’s virtually no space to hide behind anything, and maps are a sort of “3D but only in one direction” affair.

This brings me to the second point about the game and Heist. When I was reading Steam reviews to find justification for my own opinions about the game for investigative purposes, one review stood out. Actually, it was one genre of reviews: a group of players who enjoyed an earlier demo the game had, but were disappointed by the full product. From what I could glean, that demo only offered Heist, but also offered an alternative scoring system. Remember when I mentioned different placements give amounts of points? Well, in the demo, apparently points were awarded based on how much money you escaped with, not your placement. To me, that feels like it would shift things up quite a bit in terms of both where the player pressure is, and where the player reward is.

I don’t have any evidence for this theory, but given the game’s whole theme around stealing money, jailbreaking, and robbery, it all makes me feel like Heist was a primary game mode. But then Heist got sidelined when the other modes were added. If that’s the case, I think it’s a bit of a bummer. Heist isn’t some world shaking innovation, but at least it’s interesting and different. Every other game mode available is something I’ve played before in a different game, and burying Heist under all the crap is just unfortunate.